Archive for February, 2010

Eat More Orange

If you’ve eaten a carrot lately, you ate a bunch of carotenoids.  But don’t worry; they aren’t a type of plant bug.  Instead, carotenoids are healthy nutrients found in orange colored fruits and vegetables.  These nutrients act as antioxidants to protect our eyes and decrease the risk of some cancers and chronic diseases such as heart disease and stroke.

Carrots have several types of carotenoids including alpha-carotene and beta-carotene.  Beta-carotene is also found in other yellow and orange vegetables such as squash, sweet potatoes and pumpkins.  Beta-carotenes convert to vitamin A in the body.

Vitamin A is often considered a great “eye” vitamin.  It is linked to improved vision and protection against macular degeneration.  Vitamin A helps fight off viruses and bacteria by stimulating white blood cell production and activity.  Vitamin A is also linked to healthy skin and reduced acne breakouts.

But don’t reach for supplements for your carotene fix since whole and real foods provide the best sources of carotenes.  Instead eat more orange and reach for a carrot or munch on one serving of vegetables from the Freschef chicken picatta meal and get 110% of the daily recommended amounts of vitamin A.

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Eat More Red: Liking Lycopene

Red TomatoRed, orange and yellow colors in vegetables and fruits derive from pigments called carotenoids.  Carotenoids represent a variety of antioxidants and phytonutrients (phyto from the word plant).    

One of the most common red carotenoids is lycopene.  Lycopene is a key carotenoid in a healthful diet. Foods high in lycopene are linked to lower risks of certain types of cancer and improved eye and heart health.  Some research also indicates that lycopene is associated with reduced build up of plaque in the arteries (atherosclerosis.)

Vegetables highest in lycopene are red tomatoes, particularly sun-dried tomatoes. When foods containing lycopene are heated or mechanically processed, the lycopene’s bioavailability increases so that your body can make more use of it.  For example, sun-dried tomatoes have more than 16 times the lycopene than raw tomatoes for the same quantity by weight.

The table below shows the different amounts of lycopene measured in micrograms per gram.  Even though some of the foods are very high in lycopene, you may not want to eat large amounts of these foods.  While tomatoes have only 2,767 mcg and Russian dressing has 3,576 mcg of lycopene, this is equal to eating one tomato at 30 calories compared to 7 tablespoons of dressing at 355 calories.  Better to just eat 2 tomatoes and save nearly 300 calories to get the same amount of lycopene.  Be aware also that there are many colors of tomatoes, but only red tomatoes have measurable amounts of lycopene.  Use the following table to help your body get the lycopene it needs and eat more red!

Measureable Levels of Lycopene

 Very High levels Mcg of Lycopene per 100 grams
Sun-dried tomatoes 45,902
Canned tomatoes or paste 28,764
Ketchup 16,709
Canned tomato sauce 13,979
Tomato juice  9,037
High Levels  
Pink guava, raw 5,204
Watermelon 4,532
Canned tomatoes, stewed 4,088
Russian salad dressing* 3,576 
Thousand Island dressing* 3,098
Whole tomatoes, raw 2,767
Moderate levels  
Pink or red grapefruit, raw 1,419
Red sweet peppers, sautéed 484
Red sweet peppers, raw 308
Low levels  
Chili powder 21
Red cabbage 20
Cinnamon powder 15

Source: USDA Nutrient Data laboratory

 *Russian dressing and Thousand Island dressing should have tomato based products in them, but these are very calorie intense ways to eat tomato products.

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Are you eating enough color?

What color was your dinner last night?  If you don’t remember, you may need to brighten up your dinner plate with more colorful foods.  In addition to a prettier plate, there are health benefits as well.   The amount and type of colorful foods on your plate is a great way to know if you are eating nutrient rich foods.

An easy way to judge the nutrient quality of vegetables and fruits is to consider their dominant colors.  These colors are a reflection of pigments.  Pigments are natural chemical compounds found in plant cells and tissues.  This odd word is actually derived from Latin word for “to paint” (pingere).  Many different pigments exist within every plant and vary between a plant’s fruit, petals, stems or leaves. 

In plants, these pigments reflect different colors and types of nutrients.  Some colors tell us the vegetables are high in antioxidants.  For the plant, these antioxidants help defend the plant against some pests, filter harmful UV-light rays and protect against disease.  Just like in plants, antioxidants that we consume help protect us from disease and maintain cellular health.  Antioxidants are important in helping the body repair damage to cells by free radicals.  Free radical damage is linked to cancer, heart disease, stroke and diseases related to aging.

To learn more about creating a palette of colorful food, check out the blog articles on eating veggies by color.

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